12th October 2018

Harlequin Ladybirds- you may already have experienced the latest inundation of Harlequin Ladybirds. Thought to have benefitted from this hot summer, the populations are increased at this time of year by thousands drifting in on mild winds, from Asia. The most invasive species we have at present, this ‘invader’ first appeared in the UK in 2004- in ten years it has spread to areas which it took Grey Squirrels a hundred years to inhabit. Harlequin Ladybirds, on average larger than our 46 native species, and in a variety of patterns and colours and spot-numbers, have brown legs, and as such are distinguishable from the black-legged native species. They also reduce native Ladybirds, by out-competing for their aphid-food and by eating their eggs. Hibernating inside, unlike native Ladybirds, they give out a pheromone as the cooler weather arrives, which helps them detect other Harlequins, and gather in numbers inside our houses, and outbuildings. They do little harm though they may stain furniture and can deliver a small bite, which is harmless to all except a few who may have an allergic reaction. Conditions: Rain and strong winds arriving through the day. Temperature: Max 18 Min 17 C.

Harlequin Ladybirds

Harlequin Ladybird

Harlequin Ladybird

Harlequin Ladybirds

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21st September 2018

The Red Admiral, known in earlier times as the Red Admirable, has scarcely appeared in our garden this year but was feeding in small numbers on the heavy crops of Blackberries along the Chesterfield Canal this week. While there is a small resident population in the UK, and an increasing number of Red Admirals overwintering as adults, as our climate changes, the majority migrate to our shores in spring, from Eastern Europe, and then breed here. Because numbers are swelled by migration, the numbers in any year fluctuate greatly. This beautiful, unmistakable large, strong-flying Butterfly loves feeding up on fermenting fruit like these imbibing Blackberry juice. Conditions: Cool, wet and then sunny. Temperature: Max 13 Min 7 C.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral feeding on fermenting Blackberries

Surprisingly heavy crop of Blackberries given the dry season

15th September 2018

I seldom get the chance to feature Weasels, because photo’s are hard to get and, while not clear, these give me the opportunity. Weasels are very speedy and active, hunting day or night as they have to eat every 24 hours or starve. They catch rodents, small birds and their eggs, and even tackle Rabbits. However this one, on the cliff-top at Borth Y Gest, North Wales, decided not to tackle the oblivious sunbather it came up against! Slightly smaller than the related Stoat, and without the Stoat’s black tail tip or the Stoat’s ability to change its coat to white in winter, it only lives an average of 3 years, compared to the Stoat’s 10. Therefore, it has to breed faster, having two litters a year rather than one. The young, ‘Kits’, are able to hunt and fend for themselves within a staggering 5 weeks of being born. They live almost anywhere, including grassland, woodland, mountains and sand-dunes, like this one, but you are lucky to see one- they run off quickly.

Weasel

Weasel surprised by sunbather, Borth y Gest

is a good spot near Sheffield. Conditions: Mild, sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 18 Min 12 C.

10th September 2018

The Painted Lady Butterfly is one of our largest species, and its capacity for strong flight is  truly extraordinary. They migrate every year  from their native home in North Africa. Some individuals arriving here from late May may have flown all the way, while others will have bred in Europe and it is the second or third generation which we see. This amazing Butterfly can breed several generations while here, and can fly as far as Shetland and to our highest mountains. The Painted Lady is the only Butterfly that reaches Iceland. However, it cannot survive our winters, and while a few may fly back to Europe, most die here by autumn. These, seen this week, are fading from their bright colour when they first emerge. Feeding here on Buddleia, their favourite food plant is Thistle. I have seen very few this year- it is thought that they migrate north when a critical level of density in their population in North Africa is reached, and sometimes this is in their thousands. Conditions: Still and grey. Temperature: Max 17 Min 15 C.

Painted Lady

Painted Lady in flight

Painted Lady feeding. Its long proboscis allows it to feed on the tubes of Buddleia

Painted Lady, fading by late summer.

27th June 2018

Birds-Foot Trefoil, which we called ‘eggs and bacon’ because of the variation in colour from deep yellow to orange, gets its name from the shape of its seed-pods, which also give it its less pleasant common name of Grannie’s Toenails in some areas. Common in grasslands, waste ground, seashores and rocky areas, this low growing plant is a brilliant source of nectar for insects, and a food source for the caterpillars of the beautiful Common Blue butterfly.  To Victorians, deeply into the symbolism of flowers it represented revenge. Conditions: very hot, dry spell continues. Temperature: Max 25 Min 10 C.

25th June 2018

Meadow Pipits are one of the most widespread birds in Britain and Ireland, found on seashores, heaths, meadows and uplands, though their actual numbers have plummeted by 40%. Meadow Pipits have many predators and this one looked round nervously, as they often do, from its perch, as it preened. They eat moths, insects and spiders and can be confused with the larger, less streaky-chested Skylark,

Meadow Pipit preening

Meadow Pipit, singing from its perch

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit preening.

soaring up and singing their (very different, piping) song before parachuting back down to ground or perch. The colour of their back varies from olive green, through buff to grey. A look at a video on the BTO site will help you separate them out from Skylarks and Rock Pipits. Conditions: Very hot, still sunny day. Temperature: Max 27 Min 13 C

7th June 2018

Yellowhammers: Returning from a great break in Ireland, where we never got wet in 16 days (is this some sort of record?), I’m restarting the blog with these gorgeous Yellowhammers, doing what they classically do- singing from the top of a low bush, typically a Gorse bush as you can see. We heard the brightly coloured male singing its rhythmic song- “a little bit of bread and no cheese”, while the camouflaged female sat nearby in a small tree (see photo). They were unusually numerous on an RSPB site in Dumfries, having sadly declined in many areas, as scrubland is replaced by intensive farming or development. Conditions: Cloud and sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 20, Min 11 C.

Yellowhammer, male

Yellowhammer, male

Yellowhammer, female